Documentary photographer Dina Oganova has long been haunted by Georgia's prevalent kidnapping culture of young women, a trend that began in the post-Soviet era. Allow Dina to shed light of this rarely spoken issue in her own words and pictures with this exclusive from Lomography Magazine.
It was very popular in Georgia to kidnap girls for marriage. It’s like a tradition of love; but in reality, most of the girls didn’t even know their future husbands. Most of the time the kidnappers rape the girls, so when some of the girls get to have the chance to leave, some prefer not to come back due to their families; because the families didn’t want to get them back.
In here, it was always a big shame for a family to get their daughter back after a kidnapping, because she’s most likely not a virgin anymore and nobody will marry her after that. So, marrying the one who ‘captured’ her is the only way to remain respectable.
This was always an active topic in our family. My grandma was kidnapped by my grandpa, but they basically built and lived their whole lives together. So, I lived and grew up with this ‘tradition’.
I remembered one day when I was in my 8th class at school, a moment when one of my classmates was kidnapped. We didn’t know about it at first, but for the following days, she was not coming to school. After a week, she came back to get her documents out of school because she was married already and couldn’t continue her studies, because she had a husband at home.
On that day, I came back home and began to ask so many questions to my family. I was protesting, _”why should a man change my life without my permission?”_There was no law to control it, there were no regulations. Nobody cared about the girls.
This tradition I grew up with was no longer popular in the capital Tbilisi, or so I thought. I thought it stayed in my past, but a few years ago (2014), it all came back to me. I was in one village, not so far away from the capital, just an hour drive away, and met a girl, very beautifully dressed, and we started to talk. I took a picture of her, we laughed a lot and in the end, she invited me to her wedding. She was 16 or 17 at that time. I remember asking her, ”You must love this man a lot for you to decide on such an important step in your life.” But she smiled and replied that she still doesn’t know him that much, because he just kidnapped her. I was shocked, obviously.
I thought this had stopped a long time ago, but no, it was real, it was happening now, around me — in the 21st century.
I went to her wedding, her husband was not so happy to see me there, but this was when Frozen Waves began. I think the idea to start a project came just after meeting her. I wanted to talk about it and how this is still happening. I wanted to talk about this problem with my photography as my language, because I don’t know any other way to communicate this critical issue. I started to look for women who were kidnapped recently; they had the same experience of those kidnapped in the 90's and I wanted to also have their input, so I talked to them as well.
As of the situation now, the kidnapping culture is changing, and I’m very happy of that. Last year, the Georgian government passed a law about it. Finally.
But it's still a problem in the small scale, like when someone is calling the police, and when the police are coming, or when the girl happens to be not emotionally strong enough to protest to her family, or the same that comes with it… and yet they start to talk about love and romance as if they — women — can't do anything about their men. No voice in the relationship whatsoever.
Love should be about two people feeling strongly. Women should see their partners as lovers, not owners.